A reader writes:
I’m just starting a new interest in Buddhism but I’m gay and I read that the Dali Lama thinks homosexuality is wrong for Buddhists. How should I handle that?
I did a post on this back in 2008, and most of it is still true. As far as I know, the Dalai Lama has not changed his tune on gay folks. That being said, since I wrote that in 2008, LGBT people have made great progress both politically and socially. The most obvious sign of this is the growing acceptance of same-sex marriages, with more states allowing it all the time.
Keep in mind that Buddhism is heavily dependent on local customs. I hesitate to put this too simply, but right and wrong are often relative to the culture in question. What’s morally acceptable in one place may not be acceptable elsewhere.
The Dalai Lama is from Tibet. He used to be the “King” of Tibet. If anyone gets to say what is or isn’t proper in Tibet, it’s him. American culture, on the other hand, is not Tibetan culture. I believe that the Dalai Lama wants to reduce the level of suffering of his people, and he believes that being gay causes suffering. In Tibet, that may well be very true. In America, 20 years ago, that was often true as well. Today? Not as much.
Going all the way back to the foundations of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, the goal of all of Buddhism is to end or reduce suffering. If Homosexuality is considered evil and wrong by most of society, then an LGBT individual is going to have greater suffering than in a more accepting environment. This is certainly not good for the individual or society as a whole.
Is homoexuality a suffering-free lifestyle? No. straight people can’t claim that either. It is, however, becoming more and more accepted, and therefore more and more compatible with Buddhist beliefs.
I suspect we’ll have some discussion in the comment section; that’s what it’s for!